Halloween Horror Nights 21 Review: I’m All In

Writing this review is hard, simply because this year’s Horror Nights is easily my favorite. It didn’t feel like any house was an afterthought, placed as a means to fill space like some had in past years. It felt like every house was a full thought out idea, with a full story, and a world beyond the walls of a maze… I just wish that I felt the same way about this year’s icon, Lady Luck. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s begin with the…

RATING SYSTEM

Scares: It’s exactly what it sounds like: how good the actors are in the house/zone.

Sets: The detail, size, and placement of the set and/or props.

Atmosphere: Lighting, sound, effects, ect.

Excitement: The expectation for a house/scare-zone prior to going through. 

Final: The average of all the scores.

 

HOUSES

 

THE IN-BETWEEN

“An ominous portal reveals a 3rd dimension where all is not what it seems: a realm where our world and another collide.  Surrounded by fiendish creatures, your eyes will deceive you with every step through this phantasm of terror.”

If I had to describe the house in a word, it’s “disorienting.”  The maze uses special 3D glasses that causes the walls, props, and costumes to pop out.  There were some interesting rooms and the the use of the spinning tunnel worked well, but there wasn’t anything amazing.

Scares – 3/5

Sets-3/5

Atmosphere – 4/5

Excitement 2/5

Final – 3/5

THE FORSAKEN

“Four ships began Columbus’s fateful voyage, only three became legend.  Condemned to a watery grave, the mutinous and cursed crew of that 4th ship has returned with a vengeance.  For within the walls of a Spanish Fort, a maelstrom has brought from the depths….death itself.”

I had the pleasure of taking a tour of this maze for the HHN Tweetup. What I saw was fantastic and it still is.  The house is FUN.  I didn’t find the house scary at all, mostly as a result of the zombie’s glowing green eyes.  Walking through the house didn’t give me that normal feeling of dread when a Scareactor jumps out but rather a sense of joy.  The costumes are well done, and the set is absolutely incredible.  There’s a moment mid-way through the house where you turn a corner into a room and the reaction is just “wow.”  I definitely think this house is a fun break from the more intense scares and a must do.

Scares – 2/5

Sets – 4/5

Atmosphere – 5/5

Excitement – 5/5

Final – 5/5

NEVERMORE: THE MADNESS OF POE

“The madness of Edgar Allen Poe’s greatest works has come to life.  Step into the mind of the iconic writer, where every turn of the page takes you closer to the brink of insanity.”

All I can say about this house is WOW.  This is the only house where I was constantly scared.  The scenes represent Poe’s works so well, with rooms like “The Tell-Tale Heart, The Masque of Red Death” and “The Pit and the Pendulum.”  For a maze that was built in a tent, this one really blew me away.  Fantastic sets, brilliant scares and great costumes, this very well might be considered the house of the year.

Scares – 5/5

Sets – 4/5

Atmosphere – 5/5

Excitement – 5/5

Final – 5/5

HR BloodNGuts Presents: Holidays of HORROR

“Join creature feature host, H.R. Bloodengutz, in his final televised broadcast as he presents a SCARE-athon of holiday-based horror that is guaranteed to cleave you screaming for more.”

This is this years comedy house.  This one is hard to grade because comedy is a matter of opinion, and it’s hard to grade it the way you would scares. I enjoyed some rooms, not others.  The rooms I enjoyed, (Christmas, Easter, and Presidents Day) I really enjoyed.  The rooms I didn’t… let’s not talk about them.  It was clever.  The queue video is fantastic. I almost wished I was in line a little bit longer just so I could see more, but the 10 minutes I saw was pretty funny.  If the line isn’t too long, go for it.

Jokes – 3/5

Scares – 2/5

Sets – 3/5

Atmosphere – 3/5

Excitement – 3/5

Final – 3/5

THE THING

“Paranoia spreads like an epidemic among a group of researchers in an isolated Antarctic outpost as they are infected, one by one, by a horrifying creature from another planet. In a place where there is nothing, they found something.”

As much as I wanted to enjoy this house, I couldn’t. The costumes were good, the animatronics were working properly, and the actors were doing their best, but that house has TOO MANY STROBES. Every room had a strobe effect in it, and it made this house miserable. I walked out with a headache, and a little bit sick.

Scares – 3/5

Sets –  3/5

Atmosphere – 1/5

Excitement – 2/5

Final – 1/5

NIGHTINGALES: BLOOD PREY

“Within every war, the Nightingales have appeared.  Able to transform themselves to fit any setting, these savage banshees feed on the weak and the helpless.  Patrolling WWI era trenches, you discover that you are more than just at war…you’re being hunted.”

Nightingales blew me away. I think this might be the hardest house to review, because it did so many things well, that I couldn’t  focuse on one part of the house without going  “Oh my god, what about the [Spoiler] with the [spoiler] in that room with the [spoiler]?” I said before that Universal does this amazing thing of making you feel like something exists beyond the walls that they’ve put up, and Nightingales achieves this so well. It feels like a war is going on above you, and that atmosphere brings this house over the top.  The Nightingales are incredibly scary. One half creepy masks, one half intense scareactors. They really bring everything to this house. When I see where a scareactor is and still get scared, you know they’re doing something right.

Scares – 5/5

Sets – 5/5

Atmosphere – 5/5

Exitement – 5/5

Final – 5/5

WINTER’S NIGHT: THE HAUNTING OF HAWTHORNE  CEMETERY.

“As snow falls on this normally serene gothic cemetery, the deceased souls that occupy its confines have their sights set upon you, insuring that the chill you feel up your spine is more than just the cold of night.”

For a concept that’s been done a million times, this house is orginal. Easily the best facade of the whole event. The maze uses some of the best misdirection I’ve ever seen.  There’s a feeling like someone could jump out from any corner of the room and quite often, they do. One way of describing this house is as grown up Haunted Mansion.  Creepy, gothic, and dark.  Not to mention obvious references to The Walking Dead and Doctor Who’s Weeping Angels help to make this a favorite.

Scares – 4/5

Sets – 5/5

Atmosphere – 5/5

Excitement – 4/5

Final – 5/5

SAWS N’ STEAM: INTO THE MACHINE 

“Spinning blades and massive, crushing pistons await you around every corner as you are forced deeper into the bowels of a mechanical nightmare.  Give yourself to “The Machine.”

Saws N’ Steam is the house you want, but never knew you wanted. The dark steampunk machine vibe strangely fits the jaws queue that it’s located in. The house doesn’t use the normal jump scare tactic that most houses use, but rather relies on huge, brut like scare actors intimidating you.  The set in this house is hard to describe, claustrophobic, yet massive.  The house intro room reminds me of a certain experimental Utopian community we’ve all heard of  but the name escapes me at the moment…

Scares – 4/5

Sets – 5/5

Atmosphere – 5/5

Excitement – 5/5

Final – 5/5

 

SCAREZONES

 

7

“As daylight shines upon our Temptresses, their appearance, though evil, allows you the spectacle of beauty.  As night falls, these 7 temptresses will show their true colors and take on their true Fatal Evil forms. Beware of your own temptations.”

This is the zone of the year. It has almost no scenery to speak of, no dense fog, and no crazy lighting,  but the actors in this zone work SO hard, they manage to put so much energy in the area around it. Most of the other scarezones have the feeling like the zone is scary because of the anticipation of the scare. Oh no, not in 7. In 7, the second you walk into the zone, you can almost feel the actors pushing the flow of traffic around with how intense they are. Clever costumes for each of the sins and blaring rock music complete this zone.

Scares – 5/5

Sets – 2/5

Atmosphere – 5/5

Excitement – 4/5

Final – 4/5

GROWN EVIL

“Enter, if you dare, into our garden where Evil grows. Nature has taken this once well manicured sanctuary back from the humans who once kept it.  Now the creatures that inhabit the garden are making any human that enters their prey.”

Grown Evil was the most eye popping zone for me. The zone’s placement in central park, plus the dense fog and some creepy lighting made for the best atmosphere of any zone this year. When you walk into the zone, you really get that feeling that when someone tries to scare you, it’s gonna get you bad… BUT, as cool as the zone looked, the costumes were a bit silly for my taste. While the stilt walkers are very good at using their wings to scare, when you see bats running at you in full speed, it just seems… goofy. The owl costumes work a little bit better, but the long bat ears were just silly.  Actors weren’t bad, but weren’t spectacular.

Scares – 2/5

Sets – 4/5

Atmosphere – 5/5

Excitement – 4/5

Final 3.5/5

CANYON OF DARK SOULS 

“Upon entering into the Canyon of Dark Souls, you will feel like a small spec of humanity as the overwhelming sense of death surrounds you. Creatures that dwell within the Canyon are not welcoming so walk slowly as to not disturb them.”

The Canyon of dark souls is OK. The zone is minimalistic, clastrphobic, and hard to see in. The costumes are cool, including some clever use of LEDs on the masks, but I didn’t really feel like the actors were on their game. The ability to blend into the set helps the scares, the inclusion of real fire was a nice touch, and the music goes perfectly, but this was not Universal’s best work.

Scares – 2/5

Sets – 3.5/5

Atmosphere – 4/5

Excitement – 3/5

Final – 3/5

ACID ASSAULT

“For decades now the city has been degrading from the effects of Acid Rain that still falls today, caused by factories which sprung up on the city’s edges during the 20th century.  Those that have lived and survived the blistering decay are all alone in the city. Survivors have stripped the city of all life to sustain their own…dare to enter the ACID ASSAULT.”

With easily the most props and building mapping projections, Acid Assault is clearly the zone that Universal worked on the most this year.  Acid Assault appears to be a remake of a zone from a couple ago called Apocalypse: City of Cannibals that failed miserably. If A&D was looking to make a better version of Apocalypse, then they did so… but only because Apocalypse was terrible. Acid Assault is, in a word… OK.

It’s hard to make a scare zone work in NY because it’s such an open space. The reason 7 works so well is that there are enough actors around you that your focus is constantly on 6 people at a time. You can’t tell you might attack, where as in Acid Assault,  you could see the actors a mile away.

OK, so it’s not that scary. How about as a zone that just looked cool?

Acid Assault has the most props of any scarezones this year. The props are very cool looking but my issue is that you can’t see anything at night, it’s too dark. Llittle details like placing stickers on the ground in an attempt to make them appear as though they’ve been destroyed by the rain. That’s so cool… too bad the only reason I knew they were there was because I had seen them before it got dark. Normally, I would say that lighting the zone a little better would be an easy fix but it interferes with the zone’s biggest selling point: The buliding projections.

The projections are one of the greatest ideas they’ve ever had.  Seeing the building falling apart in front of you is really a great concept and it really fits with the story of the zone, but the lighting in the area was simply too much. You can easily see the actual buildings far too well in order for it to work. On the Metropolis Tribune and Macy’s buildings, the effect didn’t work well, but in the dark corner that the New York Public Library was tucked away in, this effect wasINCREDIBLE!  I’d rather have the projections than the props, so I hope they’ll make adjustments to this effect in the future.

Scares – 2/5

Sets – 3.5/5

Atmosphere – 3/5

Exitement – 4/5

Final – 3

NIGHTMAZE

“Journey through the ever changing maze of darkness.  This all black maze will morph and change as you walk through it. You will not be scared the same way twice.”

I wanted for Nightmaze to be good, I really did. The Idea of a zone where the path would shift as you walked though seemed great. Then, add the fact that it’s completely in the dark, and this sounds like a hit! I wish it was, I really wish It was.

No. This zone was BAD.  No scares, no “complete darkness.” Close your eyes and play random loud noises.  That’s what NightMaze is.  Don’t waste your time with it.

Scares – o/5

Sets – 0/5

Atmosphere – 2/5

Excitement – 5/5

FINAL 1/5

YOUR LUCK HAS RUN OUT

“Enter if you dare into the lair of the LUCKY!  Your choices will determine if you make it out alive. Witness lucks deadly wrath, will she choose you to be her next victim?”

Well, we’re here. The only representation of Lady Luck in the whole event. No House. No Show. Just a scare-zone. A mediocre (at best) scare-zone. If you’re gonna have an icon, do something with her, and not just for marketing. Make a house! If you insist that a house would be a bad fit, fine! Then make sure that her scare-zone is good. You don’t have to try and make it the best scare-zone ever, just make sure you give her a good scare-zone. Your Luck Has Run Out Is not a good scare-zone. It’s a bad scare-zone. Not enough actors scaring in this zone, and the two (Yeah, two) scare-actor lady lucks that I saw had the worst masks I’ve ever seen at a haunt. I expect better from HHN, better than this.  Little to no props, bad costumes, and no energy from the actors makes this the worst zone of the year.

Scares – 0/5

Props – 1/5

Atmosphere – 2/5

Excitement – 4/5

Final – 1/5

 

There are two shows this year: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Death Drums. I won’t review Bill & Ted simply because I don’t believe the show was worth the letters I’d type the review with.  Death Drums, on the other hand, didn’t really feel like it belonged at HHN. They could easily modify it as a show during normal hours. It was OK.

CONCLUSION

I know I said a lot of bad things about the scare-zones, but the scare-zones are more like bonus content. They fill in the space between the houses so you don’t get bored. If the Scare-zones are bad, it’s ok, because the houses are the real attraction. If the houses are bad… well, they aren’t. Even the “bad” houses this year weren’t terrible like they’ve been in the past. The bar is set for Universal very high, so I expect them to blow me away. If I say it’s OK, that’s still as good, if not better than the top house at any other haunt. In my opinion, no one does it better than Universal Orlando.

Halloween Horror Nights 21 was a good year. Theme was pointless, Houses were great.

Final Score: 3.8/5

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